OCTOBER 16, 2007

In the words of Seargeant Nicholas Angel from the incredible movie (seriously, see this movie) Hot Fuzz: "shit just got real."

Today marked the first day of our last block of GIE. At this point, we're seasoned medical students. We've become study machines, busting through our lecture hours every morning and meticulously working the dissection of the day in cadaver lab after. Until today. Today, our dissection lab gained 30 new members.

No, my medical school didn't suddenly decide to expand its medical school class from 120 to 150 two months into the year. But today, we removed the shrouds on the faces of our cadavers and began dissection of the head and neck.

Up to this point, the heads of our bodies have been wrapped in a cloth shroud. Besides serving a practical purpose (it prevents dessication of the skin while we worked elsewhere on the body), the purpose of the shroud was the help us rookie medical students adjust to the experience of taking apart another human body in less dramatic circumstances. When looking down at your body or looking around the room, you saw the project for the day. A shoulder. A lung. A foot. Until today. Today if you looked around you saw faces.

Today we weren't working on a body. We were working someone's mother. Someone's grandfather. Someone's child. Suddenly there weren't 30 bodies in the lab. There were 30 people. It really helped tie full circle that the hours we've toiled in the lab really were to give us an opportunity to gain perspective on the human body in order to help... real people. It's really easy to lose that perspective in medicine. In a few days, the skin will be gone from the faces, and we'll be back to working on bodies again. But part of me wishes that didn't happen. As eerie as it is, having those 30 extra people in the lab really is a profound reminder of what we're really here to do. Medical school isn't really about the tests. Or the board scores. Or the letters of recommendation. It's really about the adjustment of learning how to work on and work with people. Because that's what its really all about. You learn the nitty gritty of how to "doctor" in your specific field in residency. Medical school isn't going to make you a great doctor, but its going to give you the tools to start becoming one. Seeing those faces really reminded me of that, just as we all were settled into a routine, trucking along thinking we were hot shit first years who got everything down.

I guess, when it comes down to it, medical school (well, medicine in general) is a series of humbling experiences strung together. Even today, I saw a patient who completely fractured his leg apart two years ago. They tried a cast. Didn't heal. They tried plating the bone. Didn't heal. They tried a rod. Didn't heal. The surgeon I'm working under has exhausted all the options of treatment that he knows of and the patient is now considering amputation of the lower leg because at least he'll be able to walk with a prosthetic. Needless to say, the surgeon is effectively... humbled. I feel for him. And for the patient. Because I'm humbled today too.

Just when you think you have something figured out, you realize you're standing on the tip of the iceberg. But it also gives endless challenges as opportunity to grow and learn. To become better. And I like that. Because what's ultimately going to get you farthest in medicine to isn't knowing everything, but always being reminded that you don't.